72 steps is all it is, 72 steps to glory, 72 steps till you can spin around and throw your hands up in the air in triumph. They are among the most famous steps in the world and the only ones in which running up them as fast as you can is a thing that many people daily try to do. Why are people running up so many steps? These are the “Rocky Steps”, named after one fictional character, Rocky Balboa. In the 1976 classic film, Rocky, our boxing hero gets up one cold morning and after downing some raw eggs goes running into the day till he ends up at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This first time he tries he struggles to make it up the steps, much like how I felt when I did it. This is a moment in which we know what the stakes are, he is a bum with no chance to win the big fight.
Of course this is not how things go, this is more then just a boxing or sports movie, it is a Cinderella story for all ages. But slowly as the movie goes, Rocky picks himself off the ground and grabs his call of destiny and we get the big moment we have been waiting for. He starts slowly as he runs thru the Philly neighborhoods, along the Schuylkill River, but he picks up the pace. Finally, he’s back at the 72 steps and he runs up the steps at full speed, he gets to the top and thrusts his arms up in victory, knowing that he has done it. Then he goes and loses the fight. But the story isn’t about winning, no the story about having that chance and making the most of the moment in the sun.
This message pours out of everyone who runs, walks, or crawls up these steps. Even if you have never seen the whole movie, you know what these 72 steps are and why we become Rocky for just a brief moment.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art was originally opened in 1876. The current main building was opened in 1928. Over 700,000 visitors pack its halls every year with many making their way to the main entrance to see the 72 steps. While I did not run up the steps myself, I did walk up them at a good pace, the day I visited many people were out running up and down the steps. Pictures and selfies of the museum and of city hall, which the museum faces. It is one of the most famous movie locations in the world.
When you get to the top, you find an inlay of some Converse sneakers with the word Rocky above them. They are more or less where Rocky stood when he turned around after he ran up the steps as he raised his arms up the city in triumph.
Northeast of the bottom of the steps in the bronze Rocky statue. In Rocky III, a sense shows a statue being unveiled on top of the 72 steps. With arms up in victory and in boxing trunks and gloves, it is both a moment of awe and disappointment for Rocky, who in case you did not know is played by Sylvester Stallone. Three statues were cast for the movie by A. Thomas Schomberg. They are two tons and ten feet tall, with one at the bottom of the stairs, another is owned by Stallone and the final one is owned by the artist.
The original statue that was made for the movie is the one you can see at the bottom of the stairs. When the filming of the movie was done, some felt that it should stay up at the top of stairs while others felt that it was not art but a simple movie prop. It was moved back and forth between the museum and the Philadelphia Spectrum, a local sports arena. Since 2006 it has been at its current location, where the line to have your picture taken with the statue starts early and is never-ending. I’ve been lucky enough to see some great works of art in my life and without a doubt, the energy and happiness that people take in having their picture taken of the statue is simply amazing.
In a way, it does what public art should do and often misses. Public art should be art that draws people to locations and brings people together. The Rocky statue is one of the city’s most visited attractions and also like I said, a joyful art that reminds all of us that we might not always win the big fight, but we can get to have the moment of glory.
The morning I went was a cool and enjoyable October day. By 8 a.m. when I arrived, crowds had already started. People handing off cellphones to strangers to make sure they got their own picture in from of the statue. People laughed and eyes lit up at the sight of Rocky. Young and old waited for their moment to be the underdog of their own story. After snapping a few pictures, I was off to the 72 steps and my weak attempt to go up the stairs. Even on a Sunday morning, the buzz of people with arms in the air was hard to ignore. Philly is a tough town with tough people who are known as the town that booed and threw snowballs in 1968 at Santa Claus during a Philadelphia Eagles game. But Rocky is an example of a character that defines a city, like Rocky, Philly is never down and is always a sequel away from reliving its glory.